History Behind The Card: Modern British Army Dirigible ‘Baby’
Card #13 of 50, W.D. & H.O. Wills, Aviation series 1910
Samuel Cody, nee Samuel Franklin Cowdery, 1867-1913, Davenport, Iowa, United States of America;
Colonel (later Sire) John Edward Capper, 1861- 1955, Lucknow, India.
After constructing and flying the ‘Nulli Secundus’ and ‘Nulli Secundus II’ (see Wills’s card #9 for full story and biographies), Samuel Cody and Colonel Capper constructed a third hydrogen-filled dirigible in 1909.
On the May 21, 1909, a fish-shaped British Army aircraft dubbed ‘Baby’ was fitted with two 12-horsepower Berliet motors at the Army Balloon Factory and flown in a series of tests on Farnborough Common in London, England.
Called ‘Baby’ because of its small size, the dirigible had two four-bladed propellers mounted at an angle to provide it with quick lifting power.
Its long car was streamlined shape with the rudder and elevator at the rear where it also had separate cockpits for the pilot and mechanic, where the rudder and elevator at the rear to also carry the engines.
The car was initially open, but was later covered with canvas – as seen in the photo and card.
The non-rigid dirigible had an envelope of 84 feet (25.6 meters) with a diameter of 24-feet (7.3 meters).
The sunfish-shaped balloon had the blunt end forward with three inflated fins at the tail acting as control members. The dirigible’s envelope was composed of gold-beater’s skin and able to contain a volume of 594.65-cubic meters (21,000-cubic feet) of gas.
Later, the dirigible was retrofitted with an REP motor – just one, of 20-25 HP, which powered the two propellers.
On May 21, 1909, it maneuvered successfully for an hour at a height of 304.8-meters (1,000-feet), and then rose to a height of 609.6-meters (2,000-feet) before an immediate descent was attempted by opening the gas valve.
Because too much gas was allowed to escape, ‘Baby’ came down too quickly, and landed on the Branshot Golf Links (now Dibden Golf Centre in Hampshire).
Since too much gas had escaped, it was unable to lift-off again, so an additional supply of gas was requested, but by the time it had arrived, a strong wind was blowing forcing ‘Baby’ to be towed back to its shed.
Later, because Baby‘s tail lacked rigidity, it was replaced with a more ordinary type. As well, the under-powered engines were replaced with an R.E.P. motor, but again, it was not considered strong enough. By autumn of 1909, the Army Balloon Factory sought to enlarge the envelope and utilize a more powerful engine, but instead, the data gathered from Baby’s successful flights was used to later construct other larger dirigibles for the British Army… later reborn as Beta in 1910.
Because there is no card for this, let’s finish off the topic… Beta was enlarged to have an envelope capacity of 35,000 cubic feet (991 cubic meters) and a length of 104 feet (31.7 meters). The former inflatable wings at the rear were replaced by fixed planes – two horizontal and one vertical on the underside, which had a rudder attached to it.
The car was long and open and had elevators affixed to it and held a single Green 35 horsepower engine to two propellers. The ship had a three-man crew in the center.
It was only semi-successful, as Beta had problems with its fragile envelope.
So, near the end of 1912, the Beta II was born – redesigned and built from Beta. It had a capacity of 50,000 cubic feet (1415.8 cubic meters), and utilized a 45-horsepower Clerget motor which enabled the craft to hit a speed of 35 miles per hour (56.3 kilometers per hour). It’s newly designed car was boat-shaped and could seat three men (see photo below). The elevators were more efficient than on the Beta, having movable surfaces attached to rear horizontal planes.
The Beta II was used by the army for training purposes, and never saw action during WWI.
Lastly, in February of 1910, Capper flew the Gamma dirigible, a dirigible that was the first British craft to use a rubberized cotton fabric for the balloon, manufactured by Astra Company of Paris.
The 154-foot(47-meter)-long dirigible had a capacity of 75,000 cubic feet (2,123.8 cubic meters) and had two inflatable horizontal stabilizing fins at the rear and a single plane below to act as a rudder. It had an open framework car made of steel and hickory, and had a large single 80-horsepower Green motor that drove a pair of swiveling propellers that were designed by Willows to increase maneuverability.
A few months later – in June – it had a new shorter car added that was 21-feet (6.4 meters) long and six-feet (1.83 meters) wide. It’s fore and aft elevators were replaced with something similar to a box kite formation, and it’s inflatable stabilizing fins were replaced with fixed one.
Capper exchanged the motor for a pair of 45-horsepower Iris engines that would each drive a single prop.
In 1912, after a change in its envelope going to 101,000-cubic feet (2860 cubic meters), it was renamed the Gamma II and could now carry six people, though it once carried nine during some army exercises.